Thankfully for the Bulldogs – and for Cheri Stricklin and their three teenagers – Stricklin is out of the basement. His fever actually broke Tuesday, which allowed him to address the team from a distance before they boarded a bus to Clemson. Perhaps it was no coincidence that Georgia won 2-0.
On Wednesday, Stricklin was allowed to watch practice from the Press Club on the upper level of Foley Field. Thursday, he was able to return to the field and walk around diamond a little.
Pending no further setbacks, Stricklin will be back in his familiar spot on the rail in the middle of Georgia’s first-base dugout for Friday night’s SEC game against South Carolina (6:02 p.m., SEC Network-Plus).
“Just being at the field and walking around has been very therapeutic for me,” Stricklin said.
Having Stricklin back has been soothing for Georgia’s players as well. Associate head coach Scott Daeley served as interim and was lauded by both Stricklin and the players for his work. But it’s just not the same as having the real head man there in his familiear sport with one foot on the first step of dugout nest to the stairs where the players enter and exit the field. Daeley continued to coach third base when the Bulldogs were at bat.
“I feel like we haven’t played as well as we could’ve played,” freshman pitcher Jaden Wood said. “During games, he usually stays in the same spot. Looking down at the spot and he’s not there was just weird.”
Said junior second baseman Josh McAllister: “I think it’s going to bring the energy in the dugout back to what we’re used to. Super excited to have him back. It’s just been weird not to have him out there.”
That weirdness manifests itself in a lot of ways. For instance, since he’s been Georgia’s coach, Stricklin almost always pitches batting practice. He said Thursday has hasn’t thrown a ball in two weeks.
Stricklin is widely known – and appreciated – by his players for his real-time feedback. During quarantine, he had to handle that via text message before or after games or practices. It’s just not the same.
“They need to hear from me, you know; I’m the head coach,” Stricklin said. “So I tried to reach out to them certainly before and after games whether we won or lost. After the Tennessee series I sent out a pretty lengthy email. ‘Hey, this is what I saw sitting here watching you on TV. This is what we did well; this is what we didn’t do well.’ That’s a normal Monday for me.
“But extremely difficult to not have the kind of contact that I’m used to having. It’s been a challenge.”
Amid all that, Stricklin was pretty sick. For whatever reason, his doctors struggled to get his fever under control. He planned to join the team in College Station, Texas, on the Saturday after his mandated week of quarantine, but his fever surged the day before he was to leave, and he actually felt worse.
“It came back and got me,” Stricklin said. “… I didn’t really kick it until Monday. I just really didn’t feel good. I think a lot of people can relate. It hits some people some ways and other people other ways. It was pretty much 12 or 13 straight days of not feeling very well at all.”
That’s nothing that a couple of wins this weekend can’t heal. Still ranked No. 23 by Collegiate Baseball, the Bulldogs (17-7, 2-4 SEC) will be jumping for joy if they could take two or three from the No. 8 Gamecocks (17-6, 4-2). South Carolina hits .277 as a team and features the nation’s top slugger in Wes Clarke, who is batting .313 with 14 homers and 30 RBIs.
McAllister is hitting .361 for the Bulldogs and had a 17-game, on-base streak snapped in the 2-0 win at Clemson on Tuesday. Freshman left-hander Luke Wagner (3-2, 2.95 ERA) will get the Friday night start for a third consecutive weekend.
“I’m looking forward to being outside a little, moving around and raise my voice a little and get my heart rate going,” Stricklin said. “But I don’t anticipate doing any backflips in the dugout.”